I don’t think we appreciated quite the size of Indonesia. It’s a big place! It’s nearly as wide as the USA – just with a lot of sea in between the islands! As such, three weeks was never going to be enough, but we can’t really complain.
We decided to pick a couple of places, in order to try and see them ‘properly’, rather than risk some of our final weeks on this epic adventure feeling rushed. As such, we caught a flight to Bali, and started in the legend that is Kuta. Now famous for all night bars and slightly dodgy dealings, on paper it wasn’t our cup of tea, but we didn’t really have any issues with it – mainly as we were in bed by 10…!
A great deal on Agoda secured a lovely hotel with pool (and a massage area!), which was a perfect way to counteract the chaos of Vietnam. The hotel security even managed to stop us being scammed out of about £100 by some particularly dodgy money changers..! Phew. For the record – don’t risk the street guys in Bali. Even if you’ve been travelling for ages and reckon you are good enough to spot their sleight of hand… They’ll still get you! We were very lucky that the hotel helped us out.
The Gili islands were next on our list. Gili Air to be precise. What a wonderful place! Chilled, no vehicles, a good (but not over the top) selection of bars and restaurants, and a whole load of dive centres! Turtles were the aim of the game! We dived with Manta Dive, and were impressed with their kit and set up. Good discounts online on their prices, and best of all, lots of turtles, both green and hawksbill. Amazing!! Seeing them just glide towards you out of the blue is just incredible!
We also got wind of something that seemed too good to be true… But for once, wasn’t! There’s a dive centre on Gili Air called 7Seas, and every Wednesday at 16:00 they do a special dive called Dive Against Debris. It’s basically a litter pick dive. You volunteer.. Grab a mesh string bag, some gloves and some scissors, and go diving… For free….! The group of us cleared 19kgs of rubbish from the reef, and saw a turtle, some barracuda, and loads more whilst we were at it. We couldn’t believe it. Free diving, and feel good factor! What more could you ask for??
A few days of sun, salt and sand sorted us right out, and soon we were back on Bali for the next big tourist destination – Ubud. We had heard great things: cafés, food, spas, shopping, and good vistas. If I’m honest, we we’re bit disappointed. It was crammed full of people – July is high season after all, but there were masses of locals too. The roads were jammed, and after the Gilis it was like being back in Vietnam! Tom also commented that all of the shops sold average ‘silver’ jewellery, or pure tat. A saving grace however, was a patisserie called ‘Caramel’. No more needs to be said.
Two major highlights from Ubud:
1) Seeing Olivia and her family. Such a treat! Can’t believe that after years hiding away in Devon, we finally tracked you down in Bali! Thank you for a lovely day or two. See you in Wales!
2) Coffee plantation tours. On the main road heading north out of Ubud. Hire a bike and go solo. Free tours of the coffee plantations, including the civets. It was really interesting, and the tasting selections are generous. About 12 different flavours of coffees and fruit teas – with paying for a sample of cat-poo coffee extra. For those of you who are as ignorant as we were about a week ago, cat-poo coffee AKA Luwak Coffee, is the most expensive coffee in the world. Basically, a civet eats the fruit from the coffee bush, but the bean remains undigested and passes straight through. Some lucky people then collect the poo, clean off the beans, roast them, then grind them to make coffee! The really expensive stuff is collected from wild civets, but most is now farmed, which has some major ethical issues with these animals in small pens being force fed fruit. However, as an experience, we had an excellent day!
By this stage, the lure of diving with manta rays had caught our attention. They are fairly common (for manta rays!) in these waters, with known cleaning stations and feeding grounds near a number of Indonesian islands. Komodo (of dragon fame) is supposed to be pretty special, but it was out of our budget at such a last minute, so we decided to head for an island just off the south of Bali called Nusa Lembongan.
We broke our one rule of diving – don’t dive expecting to see one particular animal. It ruins the dive if you don’t find it!! For just over an hour, we swum/drifted helplessly in the strong current, being disappointed to see a turtle, a giant moray eel, huge triggerfish, tens of stingrays, banner fish…. It was awful. How can one be disappointed to see all of that?! But we were. And we were getting increasingly cross with ourselves for breaking our golden rule. And then, just as we turned for the boat and our safety stop, it appeared. Somewhere between a swoop and a glide, a manta ray cruised past us and up to the cleaning station. Then another. And then another. Straight past us, mouths open. Truly incredible grace and beauty. We were so lucky.
We managed to resist the lure of the water the next day, and placated the bank balance by cycling round the island (and the neighbouring island). Take note: it’s not flat. After an afternoon of sweating and cursing, we retired back to our room clutching a bottle of water in desperate need of a shower. Our evening activity was provided by Marine Mega Fauna, a marine conservation group who were giving a talk entitled ‘The Secret Life of Manta Rays’. It was really interesting to learn more about these amazing animals that we have been fortunate enough to see.
Next stop: Borneo!